Wirrabara, on the Rocky River, some 235 kilometres north of Adelaide in an area first known as Charlton, was proclaimed on 13 August 1874. Some of the first settlers and landowners in the Wirrabara area were the pastoralists. Thirty years before the town's proclamation, the White brothers, Samuel and Frederick, had taken out occupational licences and named it Charlton after their home in England. After they had been established, their licences were converted to leasehold in 1851. On 16 June 1853 Samuel White married Eliza O'Halloran. When their daughter Eliza was one month old the family left Charlton and settled at White Park. Charlton was bought by C.B.Fisher in 1861 who named it Wirrabara.
Another early industry was established during the early 1850s when the trees attracted timber cutters from the nearby Charlton and the Burra mine further south. In 1877 the first government forest nursery in Australia was begun in the nearby Wirrabara forest
After farming sections were advertised during 1874, George Hollitt bought sections 330 and 331 along the Rocky River. George, born in England in 1830, married Mary Ann Asbury and they sailed on the Shackamaxon for South Australia. After their arrival in Port Adelaide on 19 January 1853, George first farmed at Currency Creek before travelling north and trying his luck at Wirrabara. His family became well established in the area. His son Josiah, born on 12 July 1865 at Currency Creek later played a prominent role in Wirrabara. He was secretary and Treasurer of the Bible Christian School, secretary of the Band of Hope, trustee of the Wirrabara Cemetery, appointed Justice of the Peace and a member of the School Board of Advice.
Another early land buyer was Frederick Hoskins, who had travelled through the area between 1870 and 1872 while carting poles and supplies for the Overland Telegraph Line. On their return he had often loaded wool and copper from Blinman for Port Augusta. In 1874 he took up a section and named it Spring Farm.
Living conditions were hard for these early settlers. They had to make do with whatever was available. Some lived in bark huts while others lived under canvas. George Holland and his young family lived in a hollow tree where two of their children were born. This way of living was not unusual. The Herbig family had done the same at Springfield during the 1850s.
When laid out, Wirrabara was modelled on the Adelaide plan. It was surrounded by North, East, South and West Terraces with the other streets named First to Sixth Streets plus a Hillside Road and High Street. The core was in turn surrounded by suburban blocks of up to twenty acres. The first land sales were held on 24 September 1874. The first stores to open were those owned by Andrew Clarke of Clare and Thomas Marshall of Melrose. Others who moved in to establish their businesses were Peter Farrely from Saddleworth who bought lot number 64 and built a hotel. John Fry and his wife Elizabeth opened a butcher and baker shop and William Andrews, a saddler of Laura, opened up for business next door.
The Wesleyans Methodists built their church in 1876, Daniel O'Leary established a tannery in 1877 and that same year saw the start of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. Provisions for a cemetery were also made and in 1878 Fanny Hollitt laid the foundation stone for the Bible Christians' church. It was built by Yates of Gladstone. Although private schooling had been available on and off at Wirrabara, it was not until 1879 that the government school was opened with Samuel Roberts in charge of 54 students. Samuel, born in Penzance, Cornwall, had previously taught at Moonta. During his first year at Wirrabara he also opened a night school for those unable to attend during the day. A post office and telegraph was operating by 1880. On 12 August 1889 R.S. Hoar was appointed Messenger for the Post and Telegraph Department.
In 1892 the town's population was 156 in 40 houses. It was big enough to have three Resident Justices, who were T.J. Cockburn, James Milne and H.M. Smith. The postal services were looked after by J.Hoar while William Fletcher kept his customers happy at the Wirrabara hotel.
Early attempts to get an Institute going at Wirrabara were started in 1879 by Charles Perkins but were unsucccessful. Several meetings were held over the years until in 1884 Mrs J. Murray laid the foundation stone. Apart from serving as a library the building was also used for other occasions such as films, auctions, concerts and even weddings. An interesting fact is that the Library, now called the Wirrabara Memorial Library, is the only independently run library in South Australia and run solely by volunteers and supported by the Institute.
Efforts were also made to have a railway and police station for the town. Both took even longer to accomplice. The first police officer did not arrive until 1909 when Mounted Constable H. Hannam was appointed. During his first year he made more than forty arrests. The railway was connected to Warrabara in 1910 and opened on 27 April. The first station master was Arthur Middleton.
One long time resident was Elizabeth Boothby. When she died on 6 July 1909, her obituary in the Advertiser said; Great regret is felt at Wirrabara concerning the death, which occurred on July 6, of Mrs. Boothby, one of the oldest residents of the district. She was born at Queen's County, Ireland, on August 25 1820. She arrived in Brisbane with her first husband (Mr. John Armstrong) and children in 1853. Shortly after landing she was left a widow. She came to South Australia and became housekeeper at Wirrabara station for Mr. Taylor, then manager for Messrs. Tinlin & Fisher. She remained in that position for three years and then married Mr. Boothby, with whom she went to Alma Plains, and subsequently, came to Adelaide.
Her husband died, and 27 years ago she returned to Wirrabara, where she continued to reside until the time of her death. Until a fortnight before that event, although in her 90th year Mrs. Boothby had been able to read and write, and until the end of her long and useful life she was in good health. Her only son by her first husband lives in Victoria, one of her two daughters, Mrs. Hill, resides at Port Lincoln, and the other is at Wirrabara. The old lady leaves 22 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, all of whom are resident in Australia. She was very highly respected by her fellow townsfolk.
are buried in the local cemetery.